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What Teens Say About Sleep

Sleep Affects Body and Mind

Ah, sleep. You know you need it — and you probably feel a lot better when you get enough.

We've all heard what the experts think: The right amount of sleep is essential to our growth and well being.

But what do teens think about sleep? To find out, we ran a survey. More than 4,000 13- to 18-year-olds responded.

Teens Think Sleep Is Important

Our survey found that most of you agree with the experts: Almost two thirds (62%) of our survey-takers say that getting enough sleep is important to them.

Still, agreeing is very different from doing: Only 17% of our survey-takers tell us they regularly get a good night's sleep. That huge gap shows how life can sometimes interfere with getting the recommended 8½ to 9¼ hours of sleep a night.

Is Getting Enough Sleep Important to You

Here's the good news: Because most of our survey-takers believe sleep is important, they are willing to make changes so they can get more.

Planning Ahead for a Good Night's Sleep

Our survey-takers told us what kinds of things they want to try to improve their chances of getting a good night's sleep.

The top three are:

  1. relaxing before bed
  2. getting regular exercise during the day
  3. going to bed on time

Of course, all that effort is wasted if you keep getting woken up during the night. Half of the people who plan to get better sleep say they'll turn off phones, computers, and other electronics at night. They'll also make sure their sleep is not disturbed by pets or other distractions.

Logging Off

One type of distraction seems hard to let go of, though: nighttime texting or chatting online. When it comes to building better sleep habits, only 40% of the people who took our survey say they will stop messaging friends at night.

But shutting off the phone or computer is vital to getting the uninterrupted sleep we need. Even chatting about nothing much can keep our brains engaged and make it harder to fall asleep.

Here's why it's a good idea to log off and power down at night: Instead of keeping people connected, nighttime messaging can actually damage the ability to be a good friend.

Being there for a friend who really needs you is about more than just typing in a response. (Anyone who has ever sent the wrong message to the wrong person knows this from experience!) If something really important is going on, a good friend needs to be able to offer the right support — something a sleep-deprived brain can't do so well.

Try a Sleep Experiment

When you choose sleep over nighttime chatting, your brain is able to think more clearly and give better advice or feedback to friends the next day. Plus, if you don't reply to a midnight message, your friend might get some much-needed sleep too.

It's easiest to break the nighttime text-and-response cycle if you and your friends all agree not to message after a set time. When that time rolls around, charge your phone away from your bedroom so you're not tempted to pick it up during the night.

Coping With Body Clock Changes

Most of the people who took our survey (75%) say they try to get to bed on time but can't always fall asleep right away. Lying awake after going to bed can be a big problem during the teen years because body clocks change, telling us to fall asleep and wake up later.

Since most people need to obey school start times, not internal body clocks, falling asleep on time is important.

Fortunately, you can do a few things to try to override your internal clock — read on.

Steps for Better Sleep

Here are some of the things our survey-takers said they'd try:

  • Build in wind-down time. Two thirds (67%) of the people who want to change their sleep habits say they plan to relax before bedtime. Try listening to gentle music, doing yoga or stretching exercises, writing in a journal, reading, or playing repetitive games like Sudoku. (The idea is to chill out, not rev up, so avoid high-excitement books or video games.)
  • Establish a regular bedtime. Going to bed at the same time each night signals the body that it's time to sleep. More than half (58%) of survey respondents who want to change their sleep habits plan to try this.
  • Get regular exercise. Exercise helps the body feel tired — which is probably why 57% of people who want to improve their sleep plan to try it. Get your exercise during the day, though. Intense exercise in the couple of hours before bedtime can wake you up instead of tire you out!
  • Create a good sleep environment. About half of the people planning to change their sleep habits say they'll make their bedrooms dark and quiet.
  • Minimize distractions. The ping of an incoming message acts like an alarm clock, jolting you out of sleep. About half the people planning to change their sleep habits say they'll turn off electronics like phones, computers, etc., at night.
  • Drink less caffeine. If you take in too much caffeine during the day, it can increase your chances of lying awake at night. So cut back on energy drinks, coffee, and tea.

Like excelling in sports, getting the most from studying, or any other achievement, good sleep comes from good planning and a bit of self-discipline.

If you're not getting enough sleep, start by setting one small goal from the list above (like going to bed at the same time each night). Do this for a week or so — however long it takes until it becomes a habit. Then add another goal and practice that for as long as it takes to be a habit. Your doctor or nurse can also give you tips and ideas on how to improve your sleep.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: March 2011

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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